Prosecution wants Yosemite killer dead

Brian Melley The Associated Press
Tuesday October 08, 2002

SAN JOSE – A jury that will soon decide the fate of Yosemite killer Cary Stayner was told Monday the former handyman deserves the same fate as his three victims. 

Wrapping up the penalty phase of a murder trial that’s lasted more than three months, prosecutor George Williamson urged jurors to return a death verdict and forever remove a man he characterized as an opportunistic sexual predator who has no real remorse for his crimes. 

“There are two questions,” said Williamson. “Does this defendant truly deserve punishment different than what he did to the victims? Did he ever accord them a modicum of due process?” 

Defense lawyer Marcia Morrissey said Stayner’s crimes were horrible and ghastly, but that he didn’t deserve a punishment reserved for the “worst of the worst” killers. 

She said life in prison without parole was punishment enough for a man described by friends and relatives as decent, quiet and gentle. 

“You must determine if Mr. Stayner is so bad, so beyond redemption that the death penalty be imposed,” Morrissey said. “You have to decide how Mr. Stayner will die ... with a set date and time or when God takes him.” 

Stayner, 41, was convicted in August of murdering Carole Sund, 42, her daughter Juli, 15, and their Argentine friend Silvina Pelosso, 16, by the same jury that now must decide whether he lives or dies. 

The three were murdered in February 1999 while staying at a lodge just outside Yosemite National Park where Stayner worked as a handyman. 

He is already serving a life sentence for the murder of nature guide Joie Armstrong, 26, in July 1999. 

In a closing argument that lasted all afternoon and will resume Tuesday, Morrissey relied on extensive testimony of Stayner’s mental illnesses to explain the killings and as a reason to spare his life. 

Morrissey said a fatal combination of obsessive compulsive disorder and sexual disorders collided in 1999 when visions and voices Stayner had reported for years escalated to the point where he lost touch with reality. 

“The struggle to keep the images inside himself are being lost,” she said. 

Jurors have twice rejected the mental disorder defense by convicting Stayner of first-degree murder and finding that he was sane when he killed. Penalty phase deliberations are expected to begin Tuesday in Santa Clara County Superior Court. 

Williamson told jurors that Stayner was a predator, not a man driven by mental health problems. 

“There is no substantive or compelling evidence that when he committed these three murders he was mentally or emotionally screwed up,” Williamson said in a packed courtroom that included Stayner’s mother and father and members of the victims’ families. “There is no evidence that he was so emotionally whacked out or under such mental foment that he didn’t know what he was doing.” 

Morrissey said Stayner led a peaceful, crime-free life for 37 years — until the four killings in a five month period. She acknowledged that the crimes were terrible, but she asked jurors not to get carried away with a tide of anger and vengeance. 

She said the sensational kidnapping of Stayner’s younger brother and his molestation by an uncle should also be considered as factors to give him the lesser sentence. 

“It doesn’t excuse it, doesn’t make it nice,” Morrissey said. “It does mitigate it.” 

Williamson said Stayner’s entire defense was that he wanted jurors to feel sorry for him and “throw him a bone” of life behind bars. 

“Is his life so tragic that he’s deserving of your sympathy and forgiveness?” Williamson asked the jury, as he recounted the litany of sexual abuse and degradation forced upon the two teenage victims after Stayner strangled the elder Sund with a rope.